While peace talks with Colombia’s second largest rebel group seem to be as stuck as ever, the ELN shut down the east of the country.
The ELN vowed to expand the “armed strike” to southwest Colombia, another one of their strongholds, on Wednesday, the last day of the so-called “armed strike.”
Public transport companies were also ordered to suspend operations until the guerrillas allow the normalization of public life.
The national human rights office urged the government to come up with “urgent measures to guarantee the rights of the inhabitants” of the region.
According to the office, the guerrillas have increasingly been affecting the daily lives of civilians, particularly in Arauca.
While the ELN does not have the military force to enforce an absolute shut-down of the six provinces, in parts of the affected area it does and would.
Nevertheless, civilians generally comply with ELN orders out of fear for violent and even fatal repercussions, also in areas where the guerrillas could not have the military means to effectively impose their order.
ELN’s areas of influence
Other groups like the FARC and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a.k.a. “Los Urabeños” have imposed similar shutdowns in the past few years and took to burning trucks and buses of businesses refusing to cooperate.
The armed strike follows a wave of guerrilla attacks that already has had the Arauca province effectively shut down.
The increase in ELN violence is likely a guerrilla strategy to increase its leverage in peace negotiations held with the administrations with President Juan Manuel Santos.
The talks were announced in mid 2014, five days before Santos’ reelection, but have since failed to enter the formal stage.
After announcing formal talks in March this year, Santos demanded the guerrillas abandon kidnapping practices, which was met with the rejection of the rebels who claim the government was imposing conditions that should be part of the negotiations.
The ELN were formed in 1964 and has since fought the Colombian state from its strongholds in the east and, west and southwest of the country.
The leftist group has approximately 2,500 men in arms.